Egypt during World War II

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Map of modern Egypt. Eg-map.png
Map of modern Egypt.

In 1882, Egypt was occupied by the United Kingdom, following the Orabi Revolt against the Egyptian khedive. Though never formally a British colony, the Kingdom of Egypt was essentially under British control thereafter, even after the formal recognition of Egyptian independence in 1922, with British troops remaining around the Suez Canal zone. Full Egyptian self-rule was not realised until the 1952 Coup d'état.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia, as traditionally defined. Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north­western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north­eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Khedive noble title of the Ottoman Empire

The term Khedive is a title largely equivalent to the English word "servicemen" or possibly viceroy. It was first used, without official recognition, by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the governor of Egypt and Sudan, and vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The initially self-declared title was officially recognized by the Ottoman government in 1867, and used subsequently by Ismail Pasha, and his dynastic successors until 1914.


History of British influence

Egypt had long been viewed by the British as strategic link to India. Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 badly destabilized the local Mameluke dynasty and the Ottoman Turks invited the British to play a more direct role in Egypt. In 1875, the British government purchased the local Egyptian government's remaining shares of the Suez Canal.

French campaign in Egypt and Syria French campaign against the Ottomans in 1798–1801

The French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria, proclaimed to defend French trade interests, seek further direct alliances with Tipu Sultan, weaken Britain's access to India, and to establish scientific enterprise in the region. It was the primary purpose of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, a series of naval engagements that included the capture of Malta.

Suez Canal Canal in Egypt between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea

The Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, it officially opened on 17 November 1869. The canal offers watercraft a more direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans via the Mediterranean and Red seas, thus avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans and reducing the journey distance from the Arabian Sea to London, for example, by approximately 8,900 kilometres (5,500 mi). It extends from the northern terminus of Port Said to the southern terminus of Port Tewfik at the city of Suez. Its length is 193.30 km (120.11 mi), including its northern and southern access-channels. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the canal.

In 1882 Ahmed Urabi led a revolt of Egyptian military officers and commoners against European and Ottoman domination of Egypt. A British expeditionary force crushed this revolt. While this was meant to be a temporary intervention, British troops stayed in Egypt, marking the beginning of British occupation and the virtual inclusion of Egypt within the British Empire, nominally as a kingdom ruled by the Muhammad Ali dynasty. In deference to growing nationalism after World War I, the UK unilaterally declared Egypt independent in 1922. British influence, however, continued to dominate Egypt's political life and fostered fiscal, administrative, military and governmental reforms.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as Rome (Rûm), and known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was thoroughly Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Muhammad Ali dynasty ruling dynasty of Egypt and Sudan from the 19th to the mid-20th century

The Muhammad Ali dynasty was the ruling dynasty of Egypt and Sudan from the 19th to the mid-20th century. It is named after its progenitor, Muhammad Ali Pasha, regarded as the founder of modern Egypt. It was also more formally known as the Alawiyya dynasty. Because a majority of the rulers from this dynasty bore the title khedive, it was often referred to by contemporaries as the Khedival dynasty.

United Kingdom's Mediterranean fleet

In the mid-1930s, the headquarters of the (Royal Navy)'s Mediterranean Fleet was moved from Malta, to Alexandria, Egypt.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated sovereign country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

King Farouk of Egypt

At that time Egypt was ruled by King Farouk I, who had ascended the throne in 1936 and would remain in power until 1952. During the hardships of World War II, criticism was leveled at Farouk for his lavish lifestyle. His decision to keep all the lights burning at his palace in Alexandria, during a time when the city was under blackout due to Italian bombing, particularly angered some. The royal Italian servants of Farouk were not interned and there is an unconfirmed story that Farouk had told Sir Miles Lampson, "I'll get rid of my Italians, when you get rid of yours." This remark was a reference to the ambassador's Italian wife. Although Egypt had severed relations with the Axis powers soon after the outbreak of World War II but remained technically neutral until near the end of the war.

King of Egypt Wikimedia list article

King of Egypt was the title used by the ruler of Egypt between 1922 and 1951. When the United Kingdom ended its protectorate over Egypt on 28 February 1922, Egypt's Sultan Fouad I issued a decree on 15 March 1922 whereby he adopted the title of King of Egypt. It has been reported that the title change was due not only to Egypt's newly independent status, but also to Fouad I's desire to be accorded the same title as the newly installed rulers of the newly created kingdoms of Hejaz, Syria and Iraq. The only other monarch to be styled King of Egypt was Fouad I's son Farouk I, whose title was changed to King of Egypt and the Sudan in October 1951 following the Wafdist government's unilateral abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. The monarchy was abolished on 18 June 1953 following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and the establishment of a republic. The then-king, the infant Fuad II of Egypt, went into exile in Switzerland.

Farouk of Egypt King of Egypt and the Sudan"`UNIQ--ref-00000002-QINU`"

Farouk I was the tenth ruler of Egypt from the Muhammad Ali dynasty and the penultimate King of Egypt and the Sudan, succeeding his father, Fuad I, in 1936.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Following a ministerial crisis in February 1942, the British government, through its ambassador in Egypt, Sir Miles Lampson, pressed Farouk to have a Wafd or Wafd-coalition government replace Hussein Sirri Pasha's government. On the night of 4 February 1942, British troops and tanks surrounded Abdeen Palace in Cairo and Lampson presented Farouk with an ultimatum. Farouk capitulated, and Nahhas formed a government shortly thereafter.

Miles Lampson, 1st Baron Killearn British diplomat

Miles Wedderburn Lampson, 1st Baron Killearn, was a British diplomat.

Wafd Party political party

The Wafd Party was a nationalist liberal political party in Egypt. It was said to be Egypt's most popular and influential political party for a period from the end of World War I through the 1930s. During this time, it was instrumental in the development of the 1923 constitution, and supported moving Egypt from dynastic rule to a constitutional monarchy, where power would be wielded by a nationally-elected parliament. The party was dissolved in 1952, after the 1952 Egyptian Revolution.

After the war, King Farouk brought large numbers of German military and intelligence personnel and ranking ex-Nazis to Egypt as "advisors". This move infuriated the British, who had been training and assisting the Egyptian Army since the creation of the Kingdom of Egypt in 1922[ citation needed ].

Fascist Italian invasion

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies to North Africa and into Egypt against the British Hitlermusso2 edit.jpg
Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies to North Africa and into Egypt against the British

In September 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sent Italian forces stationed in Libya to launch an invasion into British-held Egypt and set up defensive forts at Sidi Barrani.

Allied forces, though greatly outnumbered, launched a counter-attack, Operation Compass. It was more successful than envisaged and resulted in massive numbers of Italian prisoners and the advance of the Allied forces up to El Agheila. This defeat of Italian forces did not go unnoticed and soon the Deutsches Afrikakorps, commanded by Erwin Rommel, were sent in to reinforce them.

There had been a large Italian community in Cairo prior to the war. Following the declaration of war on 10 June 1940, nearly all of the Italian men were arrested and nearly all Italian property was seized, leaving the women in poverty. [1]

Italian troops had attacked from their colony of Libya into Egypt, which was under British protection, and occupied Sidi Barrani. On 8 December 1940, British and Indian troops under the command of Major-General O'Connor attacked against the Italian rear, via a gap in the defenses south of Sidi Barrani. Planning of the operation (and discovery of the gap) is credited to Brigadier Eric Dorman-Smith, who served as an adviser to O'Connor.

Italian defeat

"The Protectors of Islam enter Cairo". British propaganda newspaper showing captured Italian troops under British guard marching into Cairo, January 1942. Protectors of Islam -Cairo January 1942.jpg
"The Protectors of Islam enter Cairo". British propaganda newspaper showing captured Italian troops under British guard marching into Cairo, January 1942.

As a counter-espionage measure, many of the British Commonwealth troops involved were not disabused of the fictitious notion that Operation Compass was an exercise until they were very nearly engaged in combat. The attack was supported by 25 pounder artillery and Blenheim bombers and was centred on the advance of Mk.II Matilda tanks. Within an hour of the onset of combat, Italian General Pietro Maletti was dead and 4,000 Italian soldiers had surrendered. Within three days, 237 artillery pieces, 73 tanks, and 38,300 soldiers had been captured. The attacking forces then moved west along the Via della Vittoria, through the Halfaya Pass and captured Fort Capuzzo, Libya.

The attack eventually continued, ending with the 7th Armoured Division cutting off the Italian retreat. After ten weeks the Allies had advanced 800 km, destroying 400 tanks and 1,292 artillery pieces and capturing 130,000 POWs - the Commonwealth forces suffered 494 fatalities and 1,225 wounded. However, the advance stopped short of driving the Italians out of North Africa. As the advance reached Al Argheila, Churchill ordered that it be stopped and that troops be dispatched to defend Greece. A few weeks later the first troops of the German Afrika Korps began arriving in Tripoli (Operation Sonnenblume), and the desert war took a completely different turn. ( The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II p. 1-50.)

Nazi German invasion

Adolf Hitler sent his army to North Africa starting in February 1941 (see Operation Sonnenblume). Nazi Germany's General Erwin Rommel's Deutsches Afrikakorps coming from victories at Tobruk in Libya, and in a classic blitzkrieg , comprehensively outfought British forces. Within weeks the British had been pushed back into Egypt.

German Defeat

Rommel's offensive was eventually stopped at the small railway halt of El Alamein, just 150 miles from Cairo. In July 1942 the First Battle of El Alamein was lost by Rommel because he was suffering from the eternal curse of the desert war, and long supply lines. The British, with their backs against the wall, were very close to their supplies, and had fresh troops on hand. In early September 1942 Rommel tried again to break through the British lines during the Battle of Alam el Halfa. He was decisively stopped by the newly arrived British commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery.

With British forces from Malta interdicting his supplies at sea, and the massive distances they had to cover in the desert, Rommel could not hold the El Alamein position forever. Still, it took a large set piece battle from late October to early November 1942, the Second Battle of El Alamein, to defeat the Germans forcing them to retreat westwards towards Libya and Tunisia.

The German's strategic goal had been to slice through Egypt, capture the Suez Canal, enter the British Mandate of Palestine, activate an Arab uprising against the British, and finally link up with German forces thrusting south from Southern Russia. All this was foiled by Montgomery's victory over Rommel at El Alamein.

Allied victory

British General Bernard Law Montgomery, victor of El Alamein Bernard Law Montgomery.jpg
British General Bernard Law Montgomery, victor of El Alamein

The leadership of the United Kingdom's General Bernard Montgomery at the Second Battle of El Alamein, or the Battle of Alamein at El Alamein in Egypt, marked a significant turning point of World War II and was the first major victory by British Commonwealth forces over the German Army. The battle lasted from 23 October to 3 November 1942. Following the First Battle of El Alamein, which had stalled the Axis advance, British general Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army from Claude Auchinleck in August 1942. Success in the battle turned the tide in the North African Campaign. Some historians believe that the battle, along with the Battle of Stalingrad, were the two major Allied victories that contributed to the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

The situation

By July 1942 the German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel had struck deep into Egypt, threatening the vital Allied supply line across the Suez Canal. Faced with overextended supply lines and lack of reinforcements and yet well aware of massive Allied reinforcements arriving, Rommel decided to strike at the Allies while their build-up was still not complete. This attack on 30 August 1942 at Alam Halfa failed, and expecting a counterattack by Montgomery's Eighth Army, the Afrika Korps dug in. After six more weeks of building up forces the Eighth Army was ready to strike. 200,000 men and 1,000 tanks under Montgomery made their move against the 100,000 men and 500 tanks of the Afrika Korps.

The Allied plan

With Operation Lightfoot, Montgomery hoped to cut two corridors through the Axis minefields in the north. Armour would then pass through and defeat the German armour. Diversionary attacks in the south would keep the rest of the Axis forces from moving northwards. Montgomery expected a twelve-day battle in three stages "The break-in, the dog-fight and the final break of the enemy."

The Commonwealth forces practised a number of deceptions in the months prior to the battle to wrong-foot the Axis command, not only as to the exact whereabouts of the forthcoming battle, but as to when the battle was likely to occur. This operation was codenamed Operation Bertram. A dummy pipeline was built, stage by stage, the construction of which would lead the Axis to believe the attack would occur much later than it in fact did, and much further south. To further the illusion, dummy tanks made of plywood frames placed over jeeps were constructed and deployed in the south. In a reverse feint, the tanks for battle in the north were disguised as supply lorries by placing a removable plywood superstructure over them.

The Axis were dug-in along two lines, called by the Allies the Oxalic Line and the Pierson Line. They had laid around half a million mines, mainly anti-tank, in what was called the Devil's gardens.

The battle

'Fight for Egypt', 1943 film about the battle

The battle opened at 2140 hours on 23 October with a sustained artillery barrage. The initial objective was the Oxalic Line with the armour intending to advance over this and on to the Pierson Line. However the minefields were not yet fully cleared when the assault began.

On the first night, the assault to create the northern corridor fell three miles short of the Pierson line. Further south they had made better progress but were stalled at Miteirya Ridge.

On 24 October the Axis commander, General Stumme (Rommel was on sick leave in Austria), died of a heart-attack while under fire. After a period of confusion while Stumme's body was missing, General Ritter von Thoma took command of the Axis forces. Hitler initially instructed Rommel to remain at home and continue his convalescence but then became alarmed at the deteriorating situation and asked the Desert Fox to return to Africa if he felt able. Rommel left at once and arrived on 25 October.

For the Allies in the south, after another abortive assault on the Miteirya Ridge, the attack was abandoned. Montgomery switched the focus of the attack to the north. There was a successful night attack over the 25-26th. Rommel's immediate counter-attack was without success. The Allies had lost 6,200 men against Axis losses of 2,500, but while Rommel had only 370 tanks fit for action Montgomery still had over 900.

Montgomery felt that the offensive was losing momentum and decided to regroup. There were a number of small actions but, by 29 October the Axis line was still intact. Montgomery was still confident and prepared his forces for Operation Supercharge. The endless small operations and the attrition by the Allied airforce had by then reduced Rommel's effective tank strength to only 102.

The second major Allied offensive of the battle was along the coast, initially to capture the Rahman Track and then take the high ground at Tel el Aqqaqir. The attack began on 2 November 1942. By the 3rd Rommel had only 35 tanks fit for action. Despite containing the Allied advance, the pressure on his forces made a retreat necessary. However the same day Rommel received a "victory or death" message from Hitler, halting the withdrawal. But the Allied pressure was too great, and the German forces had to withdraw on the night of 3–4 November. By 6 November the Axis forces were in full retreat and over 30,000 soldiers had surrendered.

Churchill's summation

Winston Churchill famously summed up the battle on 10 November 1942 with the words "now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

The battle was Montgomery's greatest triumph. He took the title "Viscount Montgomery of Alamein" when he was raised to the peerage.

The Torch landings in Morocco later that month marked the effective end of the Axis threat in North Africa.

Egyptian fleet damages

Many Egyptian ships were sunk during the war by U-boats, including:


Nine ships were Egyptian of the 27 ships sunk by German submarine U-81 (1941).

16 April 1942Bab el Farag*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 105Sunk
16 April 1942Fatouhel el Rahman*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 97Sunk
19 April 1942Hefz el Rahman*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 90Sunk
22 April 1942Aziza*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 100Sunk
11 February 1943Al Kasbanah*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 110Sunk
11 February 1943Sabah al Kheir*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 36Sunk
20 March 1943Bourgheih*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 244Sunk
28 March 1943Rouisdi*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 133Sunk
25 June 1943Nisr*Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 80Sunk

*Sailing vessel


3 Egyptian ships were sunk and one survived with damage by German submarine U-77 (1940)

30 July 1942Fany*43Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt Sunk
1 August 1942St. Simon*100Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt Sunk
6 August 1942Adnan*155Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt Damaged
6 August 1942Ezzet*158Flag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt Sunk

*Sailing vessel


One ship was sunk by German submarine U-83 (1940)

DateShipNationalityTonnageFate and location
8 June 1942SaidFlag of Egypt (1922-1958).svg  Kingdom of Egypt 231Sunk

*Sailing vessel

See also

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  1. Internment of the Italian Egyptians (in Italian) Archived 2009-02-25 at the Wayback Machine